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Islanders great Pat LaFontaine, the hero of the Easter Epic, knows about comebacks

Islanders' Pat LaFontaine at Nassau Colliseum against the

Islanders' Pat LaFontaine at Nassau Colliseum against the Washington Capitals on April 16, 1987. Credit: handout/Newsday / Paul Bereswill

Pat LaFontaine is rightfully remembered — and celebrated by Islanders fans — for his goal in the fourth overtime to finally end The Easter Epic against the Capitals in 1987.

But the Hall of Famer said that singular moment sometimes obscures the bigger picture.

"People forget, they focus on Game 7 and they should because it was the longest," LaFontaine told Newsday on Thursday. "But we were down 3-1 [in the series]. That’s what really made it extremely special and memorable. We had to come back."

The current Islanders entered Thursday night’s Game 6 of their Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning at Rogers Place in Edmonton trailing the series 3-2 after a 2-1 double overtime win in Tuesday night’s Game 5.

So far, a team has rallied from a 3-1 series deficit 29 times in NHL history. The Devils in 2000, then run by current Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, are the only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a conference finals.

The Islanders’ first-round win over the Capitals in 1987 marked the third time it happened — including the Islanders' rally from a 3-0 series deficit against the Penguins in 1975.

LaFontaine, who lives on Long Island, said he sees similarities between the organization’s past and the current team under the leadership of Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

He, along with future captain Patrick Flatley, joined the team in 1984 as the Islanders extended their record playoff streak to 19 straight series victories before losing to the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final after winning from 1980-83.

"I was lucky enough, Flats and I, to get to see them in action," LaFontaine said. "They always had this quiet confidence, an even keel. [Coach] Al Arbour would say, ‘I don’t care if the roof is coming down, don’t lose focus.’ At playoff time, it’s 80% mental and 20% physical. Having Lou Lamoriello and Barry there, having gone through the trenches, they know how to mentally prepare the team.

"The last couple of days have reminded me of those times, those special memories," LaFontaine said. "It was the Islanders’ way."

Lamoriello won three Cups, including 2000, and advanced to five Cup Finals as the Devils president and general manager from 1987-2015. Trotz led the Capitals to their lone Cup in 2018.

The Islanders, in their second season under Lamoriello and Trotz, advanced to their first conference finals since 1993 with a 4-0 win over the Flyers in Game 7 of that second-round series. The Flyers forced a Game 7 with back-to-back overtime wins after the Islanders took a 3-1 series lead.

"I was a little concerned for a few days against Philly because we’re usually the team down and scoring in overtime," LaFontaine said. "I was excited to see them get the win in Game 7 in a big way."

The previous season, the Islanders were swept in the second round after sweeping the Penguins in the first round.

"I think experience definitely teaches you, it bonds a team," LaFontaine said. "The real X factor is you have a tradition of an Islander way. The layer of Lou Lamoriello and the layer of Barry Trotz, I think that’s an equalizer. It adds a tremendous amount of experience and example to the guys in the room. For me, it’s the level of character and just their fortitude and resilience in the way they’re playing."

The Easter Epic is, of course, on a very short list of the Islanders’most famous playoff games.

Puck drop was on Saturday night but ended early on Easter Sunday as LaFontaine turned and beat Capitals goalie Bob Mason over the glove with a slapshot at 8:47 of the fourth overtime, finally completing the comeback from the 3-1 series deficit.

LaFontaine is often reminded of that game during the NHL playoffs.

"Whenever there is an overtime or a Game 7, I just get texts," LaFontaine said. "I hear things. It’s not like I think about it always, but you get reminded of it. I have to say, it was really kind of a stepping stone for my career, even though it’s all about the team and about the team first. That was kind of an opportunity for the younger players to learn."

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